Nearing the end of their second season in a shiny, publicly financed new ballpark that was said necessary to keep the franchise “competitive,” the dreadful Minnesota Twins are 27 1/2 games out of first place in a division that features exactly one team playing above .500. Catcher Joe Mauer, the newly-minted gazillionaire face of the franchise is slogging through a lost season and listening to mutterings about his lack of toughness and leadership. Whom he might lead anywhere at this point is a mystery, as the team has quite understandably given up and quit.

Target Field, meanwhile, continues to draw fans galore–proving what its detractors have always maintained, namely that fancy new stadiums are great for the owners’ bottom lines but have nothing to do with winning and losing.

This is a good thing to bear in mind as the perennially doomed Vikings continue their quest for a new pleasure palace in Arden Hills. Giving them one will change the fortunes of one Zigi Wilf–but not those of the team, which, to put it plainly, got off to an abysmal start last weekend. Among the team’s top problems on Sunday was two-time reject quarterback Donovan McNabb, who is on pace to match–on a cumulative basis– the Patriots’ Tom Brady’s passing yardage from his opening game by around Week 14.

The team lately hasn’t fared any better on the legislative front after being stymied during the most recent legislative session–though to be fair, that legislature didn’t do anything for anybody. The Vikes got left off the agenda of the Special Session over the summer, though why we still call these annual inevitabilities “special” is beyond me.

In happier times
As the Vikings and their various government partners–including a reluctant Ramsey County–try to resolve the “details” of a stadium plan, the price goes up, the deal gets hazier, and certain elements have emerged that make the prospect of actually doing the dirty deed seem more remote. One of my favorites was the discovery several weeks ago that the Wilf plan included a convention hotel as part of the associated development–a feature that would thus put public funding to use in competition with existing convention facilities in Minneapolis and St. Paul. When pretty much everyone howled about this the plan was quickly discarded–the Vikings said it was only a “preliminary” idea anyway–but it leaves a bad taste, as it seemed to confirm the suspicion that Wilf is a slick carpetbagger looking to skin us rubes of the tundra.

Then there was the sudden and quite unexpected announcement by leaders in both the House and Senate that an Arden Hills stadium would need a public referendum in Ramsey County. This is seen as a stadium killer, since everyone knows that the public does not support using public money to line the pockets of sports team owners. In other words, the stadium plan abruptly ran up against the reality that it is a public project the public does not, in fact, want.

Cynics see the referendum as a back-door effort to kill the Arden Hills option in order to re-open consideration of a new stadium in Minneapolis. I like a conspiracy theory, but will somebody explain to me how a Minneapolis stadium would not also require a referendum if that’s the mood we’re in? One wouldn’t pass there either, so if a vote on a Minneapolis site were somehow avoided it would look like the fix is in.

Meanwhile, a possible solution has presented itself. The Vikings now hint they might spend as much as $500 million of their own money on a stadium.  That’s moving close to the estimated cost of the open-air, football-only stadium the team says is all it really needs. So if Mr. Wilf will only come up a little more he can do the whole deal on his lonesome and us taxpayers can go back to wondering how to pay for schools and roads. If he’s a little short maybe Joe Mauer or Donovan McNabb could float him a loan. They’ve both got more money than they deserve.